I had the opportunity to talk with Nyasha Hatendi, who stars in the third episode of Hulu’s horror anthology series “Into the Dark”, one of my favorite new series.
Hatendi is an impressive actor who got his start on stage and appeared in “King Charles III“, which received 6 Tony nominations including Best Play, before appearing in the series “Casual”, films like The Front Runner, and in the films The Good Shephard where he stars opposite Robert De Niro, and the soon to be released movie Replicas with Keanu Reeves.
Set to premiere on December 7th, “Into the Dark: Pooka” is a Christmas themed nightmare starring Hatendi as Wilson, a struggling actor who gets a temp job as the Christmas character in a plush suit to promote Pooka, the hottest toy of the year. At first, it’s not a bad gig, but as time goes by Pooka slowly takes over.
Horror Fuel: “You got your start in theater. What made you decide to transition into films and series?”
Nyasha Hatendi: “I didn’t really make that change. I still do stage, I love it. With acting, working on TV and film is a different skill. You get to hone different skills. I like to try and do everything as much as I can. I try and make sure I do a play a year. That’s my dream, to do at least one play a year. I love the stage, doing films and series, all for different reasons. I try to do them all if I can.”
Horror Fuel: “It’s fantastic that you love your craft so much. That’s what makes the difference between good and great actors. Are you doing a stage production now?
Nyasha Hatendi: “Not at the moment. I am currently working on a short film that I have written and will direct. I am finishing that off. It’s the first time that I have done any writing or directing.”
Horror Fuel: “Congratulations! I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for your film.
You’ve had a long run on Hulu’s series “Casual”. Will you tell us about your character Leon?”
Nyasha Hatendi: “Sure, lovable Leon. Leon was a lovely, lovely guy who experienced a lot of trauma early on in “Casual.” He had been through the most excruciating divorce and was recovering from that. He decided that he is no longer going to put up with negativity and decided to become the best version of himself. His journey through “Casual” is through a mix of people who haven’t reached the same degree of self-awareness. His journey really is about dealing with all of these weirdos. “Casual” is now finished, unfortunately. We wrapped on the last season in April. Now he’s gone. Leon is dead. It was a wonderful experience. I’m still very fond of him.”
Horror Fuel: “He was a great character. But he’s not the only character you’ve done for Hulu. Episode three of “Into the Dark” is gearing up to premiere.
Nyasha Hatendi: “My episode is set in somewhat of an alternative reality. He’s trying to figure out what is happening to him. He’s an out of work actor who finds an actor wanted sign and goes for this job. The job requires him to put on a costume and that costume is of a character called Pooka. It’s the beginning of the end or the beginning of the beginning, depending on how you look at it. He has a very contentious relationship with this costume and with different parts of himself. We see the drama unfold in a way that is both amusing and disturbing.”
Horror Fuel: “I’ll be honest, the first time that I saw the trailer for “Pooka” all I could think was, ‘Wow, that thing is creepy as hell.’
Nyasha Hatendi: “Yeah.”
Horror Fuel: “What was it like inside that costume?”
Nyasha Hatendi: “It was very hot. I have never sweated so much. It was great for my vanity, but I had to wear these ice packs on my back and on my chest to keep my body temperature down. There was very little I could see. It has the big glowing eyes with a big battery pack that was on my forehead, they were remotely controlled by the props team. You know that little grill, that’s what I saw out of. You couldn’t look out, you had to look down. It was quite intense. At the same time, it was actually quite fun. You put on a mask and something happens to you. You become more playful than you would be regularly, teasing everybody, and play fighting while I was in the costume. When I wasn’t in the costume I was professional.”
Horror Fuel: “A bit of split personality, like your character?”
Nyasha Hatendi: “Exactly. The costume allows him to be himself. It allows him to indulge his mischievous side that he wouldn’t necessarily have the courage to. That’s where the relationship with the costume becomes dubious. It’s great on one hand but it’s also addictive on the other. It’s a crutch that eventually becomes destructive.”
Horror Fuel: “I can imagine. I think that’s part of why everyone loves Halloween, they get to put on a costume and act out. It’s great that you had the chance to play the character from so many angles. What is like going from comedies to dramas to roles that are dark like with “Into the Dark?”
Nyasha Hatendi: “I really enjoy that. I was desperate to do something like this after “Casual.” I love “Casual” and it really was great fun. It was lighter in some ways and not in others, especially the last season which got very emotional and quite dark. “Pooka” allowed me to go further in that direction. Wilson is one of those roles where you get to play every shade under the sun. It was a real gift. It allowed me to explore my range in ways I haven’t before. I always try work that allows me to do that, push those boundaries. This was a great opportunity to do that.
Horror Fuel: “That’s fantastic. I love that you have that interest in appearing in different genres and to push yourself. ”
Nyasha Hatendi: “Yeah, it’s the only way you can really grow. If you become too comfortable with things that you know, your brain will start to shrink. You the adrenaline and shock of something different to keep things exciting. I think that’s the way with any creative endeavor. Hopefully, I will continue to be able to do that.”
Horror Fuel: “Was it odd being an actor playing an actor?”
Nyasha Hatendi: “It was odd in the sense of being an actor acting as an actor acting. It was weird to see it through this double lens you have to see through and this double filter you have to go through. That was actually quite difficult. Acting as an actor was really difficult, but as far as the experience that he went through that wasn’t. I could really connect with that and I could connect with the anxieties that he deals with or attempts to deal with. When that fails it ultimately causes his unraveling. It was mentioned about his auditioning where you go in and feel completely objectified. Those were experiences that I could definitely relate to and was able to bring a little empathy to that for my fellow actors. These are horrifically difficult experiences. It wasn’t difficult to do, but it was difficult to experience in its own way. But it was also very helpful as far as the journey of this character. It’s the reason he evolves in the way he does because he experiences that. The mental health of actors is really concerning. Playing this I was very aware of that. It was quite frightening to have to go down that route, realizing what you do exposes you these vulnerabilities. It was like a double-edged sword if that makes any sense.
Horror Fuel: ” I understand exactly what you are saying. Speaking of exciting, you have several projects that will be coming out soon. One is “Black Earth Rising.”
Nyasha Hatendi: “Black Earth Rising is a series I did earlier this year in London. I think you’re right, I believe it gets released on Netflix early next year. It’s directed by Hugo Blick who is a wonderful TV author. It stars Michaela Coel and John Goodman.
The other one I’m excited about, which we filmed in Georgia, in Savannah, is a film called The Front Runner starring Hugh Jackman.
Then I have another one called Replicas which comes out in January. It’s a Keanu Reeves movie, directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff. It also stars Thomas Middleditch. Those are the upcoming things.”
Horror Fuel: “You’ve been a busy man. That’s great though. I’m glad top hear that you enjoyed Georgia. As for Replicas, I’m a huge Keanu Reeves fan.”
Nyasha Hatendi: “It was really wonderful. I’ve never been down that far. I’ve been to North Carolina. But Savannah is a beautiful, beautiful place. It was really eye-opening. You’ve got SCAD, the art school there. There is so much culture. It was really a great ten days. I’d love to be able to do some more filming there.”
Horror Fuel: “That would be great. Can you tell us about Replicas?”
Nyasha Hatendi: “Sure. Replicas is a cloning movie. It’s a film about a man who loses his family. He’s a scientist and he’s working on trying to take the human consciousness and place it in a new body, basically a way to clone a human being and bringing back the essence of that person. When his family dies he resorts to this science. That’s when the shit hits the fan. A lot of bad people get involved and a lot of people get hurt. It’s an incredible thriller, a fun thriller. It’s good fun. I definitely recommend it. Keanu Reeves is great in it, so is Thomas Middleditch, he’s a very funny guy. John Ortiz is a really lovely guy who is an actor in that as well. I highly recommend it.”
Horror Fuel: “It sounds like a great film. I will definitely check it out. I look forward to seeing you in action. I’ve seen several other pieces of your work and you’re a talented actor. I hope to see you in more horror films.”
Nyasha Hatendi: “I’m excited about that. I hope so too. It’s funny, playing lead like in this [Into the Dark]. You have such a responsibility. And playing this really crafty character. I really enjoy that. I really hope that I get the chance to do that again and to play a role in like a romantic comedy or something like that or a fantasy film. Either way, I hope you will watch it.”
Horror Fuel: “Oh, I will. I look forward to seeing you in many types of films in the future. You have such range.”
Be sure to see Nyasha Hatendi in the third episode of “Into the Dark” streaming on Hulu beginning December 7th, along with the first two episodes. It’s a great feature-length anthology series that you don’t want to miss.
Follow Hatendi on Twitter to stay up to date on all his roles in films, series, and in stage productions. Replicas is set to be released on January 11th. The Front Runner will arrive on DVD on February 19, 2019. Be sure to check them out.